Reflections on 2018
I’m sitting in an Airbnb, in a strange city more than three-thousand miles away from everyone and everything I know. Occasionally, I glance out the living room window and marvel at the skeletal trees of winter, with their orange and brown carpet of decaying leaves. I secretly hope for snow, and feel slightly disappointed each morning when I open the blinds and find only the last vestiges of autumn. The snow will come, I’ve been assured by the locals, I just have to be patient. Patience has never been my strongest attribute, so I still rush to the window each morning scanning the trees for white. It’s quite a different view from the flat desert scrub and suburban sprawl I left behind.
The year started out unremarkably. I was working full-time at a job I (mostly) enjoyed, producing content on the side to feed my creativity, and moving through life mainly on autopilot. It was a comfortable, semi-satisfying life interrupted only by brief flashes of creative frustration and disquieting unrest. I had a plan, goals, a mission statement - I knew how things were going to play out. I also had a trip to Las Vegas coming up, which would help to salve the restless part of me.
My mother had never been to Las Vegas, but was curious to see the glitz and glam. I booked a girls weekend trip for us, very pleased that I would finally be able to spoil her a bit. The previous few years had been rough for me, recovering from an abusive marriage and financially devastating divorce. My parents helped me through it, allowing me to stay in their home, helping me finish school, and getting me back on my feet. It felt good to be able to return some of that to her. The year was starting off well, then I got a call that changed everything.
Mom had a heart attack. She was in hospital and being looked after, they were doing tests, but I needed to come. So I did. I repeated that pattern three more times during the year, with the final trip being one of absolute panic as my stepfather’s voice rang in my ear…”she was blue….I had to do CPR on her…..the paramedics are shocking her now”.
We never made it to Las Vegas. Instead, we spent days together in the hospital and at home. I spent nights crying myself to sleep, and wondering how I would be able to move through a world without her loving presence in it. Thankfully, I still have time to figure that out. She recovered from each heart attack, albeit with a little more damage after, and now has an implanted device to assist her. Her memory is fuzzier than before, and her physical activity is limited, but she’s here. She’s still here for me to talk to, laugh with, and hug. Her stories may be repetative, but she’s telling them to me and that’s all that matters. So, I smile, nod, and remind myself to be present to every moment with her because I know our time together is finite.
That was the first lesson of 2018, learning to be present to the people and moments in my life. Something unexpected happened when I became present. Time took on a new meaning, it became a precious commodity that I could no longer waste. I started to reexamine the priorities in my life, what I spent my time on, who I spent my time with, and how I could reshape my life now. Not at some arbitrary point in the future when all my planned out puzzle pieces had dropped into place, and the circumstances were perfect. But now, when the puzzle was incomplete and circumstances were imperfect. Right when I needed it most, the universe obliged and sent someone to guide me on that journey.
Slowly, over the course of the spring and summer, I developed this new friendship and explored ideas of consciousness, existence, and self. I learned to be more aware of my projections, narratives, and bias. I started to examine my attachments, not only to people and places but to physical objects as well. I did the excrutiating work of letting go, which is frankly never complete and continues to this day. It was an incredible time of growth and discovery, but also an exhausting, heartbreaking time. Looking at yourself is never easy.
That was the second lesson of 2018, learning to let go. Letting go of my projections for myself and others, and letting go of physical objects and the need to consume. During this time, my art suffered. Most of my energy was going into my family, and the internal work I was doing. This not only took up the hours in my days, but most of my mental energy as well. During this same time, the situation at my day job became complicated.
Due to a recent promotion, along with staffing reductions, more was expected of me. My mornings started earlier, and my evenings ended later. I set up a permanent remote work station at home which only made the tether tighter. The line between business and personal blurred even more than usual, and it became difficult to determine where one ended and the other began. I was performing mental gymnastics at the time, trying to balance family, creating, and work, along with continuing my personal journey. I started not sleeping, or trying to exist on a few hours a night, which only made the situation worse. I have always been my own harshest critic, but in those days and hours, that voice shreked at me day and night. I was doing everything, but not doing anything well.
That was the third, and final, lesson of 2018, learning to be gentle with myself. Gentleness toward myself was a foreign concept to me. Most of my life had been spent in battle, locked in conflict with the critic in me. Sometimes I would win a skirmish or two, but more often than not, the critic prevailed. The work of gentleness started by taking that critic in my arms, and loving her. Acknowledging that all those previous versions of myself brought me to where I am now, that they did what they had to do to survive, and that was ok. I didn’t need to be perfect, in whatever way society, or my family, or my narratives were telling me was perfect. I just needed to be me, right where I was, with the emotions that were manifesting, and all the messiness of my humanity spilling out. It was ok for others to see me like this, I didn’t need to hide anymore.
Now that I wasn’t busy expending all my energy hiding or creating a socially acceptable persona, I could actually focus on others. I stared to become curious about the people around me, and from that curiousity, conversations occured. I cried with my employees, I laughed with strangers, I opened myself up to other viewpoints and experiences, and I allowed others to know me. I learned to be gentle with the people around me, to see them as fellow travellers on this amazing journey, with the same hopes, fears, and internal critics. Gentleness also brought compassion, and a softness to my interactions with myself and others that’s difficult to describe. My critic still tries to run amok at times, I doubt that will ever change, but now I have a choice in how I react to her.
It seems simple now, writing out my reflections and condensing them into a nice list, but this year has been anything but simple. The work that I began continues, and if I am really lucky, it won’t ever end. There were so many other moments that occured during this time; some great and some not so great. I tried to be present and gentle for all of them, and to let go when I needed to. That’s what I’m taking into 2019 with me.
I’ve been asked about my resolutions for 2019. I would say that the lessons I learned in 2018, are the resolutions I’m bringing into 2019. To be present, to let go, and to be gentle with both myself and others. Everything else will fall where it may, and the adventure will be using my new tools to navigate through it. I’m looking forward to seeing where that will take me.